A big addition. An unexpected return. Several new recruits.
Rutgers wrestling may have had its season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, but its offseason has been a busy one so far amid the shutdown.
While there will always be questions about what would have happened at the NCAA Championships before the abrupt halt, the Scarlet Knights got through their transition season - it wasnt quite rebuilding, but it was close - quite well in hindsight.
Rutgers went 10-7 in dual meets (4-5 in the Big Ten) to extend its streak of consecutive winning seasons to 14 (13 under head coach Scott Goodale), and four of those losses were one reversed bout from being victories. The dominance over Princeton ended, but the control of the Rider series did not. And while the Scarlet Knights didnt have much team success at the Big Ten Championships, the program and the RAC hosted the event flawlessly.
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So whats next? Here is an early look at what the 2020-21 lineup could look like whenever wrestling resumes.
Three things to keep in mind:
1. This projection does not include any potential transfers. Will there be additions to the roster later this spring and summer? Likely. But until wrestlers are in the fold, they will not be included in the projection.
2. The projection also does not include Nick Suriano. The national champion has not indicated his plans after taking an Olympic redshirt this past season. If he does return to the Scarlet Knights - which appears to be on the table - he would be the projected starter at 133 pounds.
3. Wrestlers are only listed once at their lowest anticipated weight, but some could be factors at other spots in the lineup.
Here is our early look:
Projected starter: Nicolas Aguilar (24-11).
Others in the mix: Malcolm Robinson (7-6), Nico Messina (NJSIAA medalist), Dylan Shawver (Ohio state medalist).
Notes: Aguilars first season as a starter was extremely promising, even if it was a roller coaster ride at times. The California state champion went on a first semester tear to leap into the national rankings, then stayed there the rest of the way despite hitting a wall in late January, suffering four straight losses without an offensive point. Aguilar powered through with a critical win during the Rider match and won six of his final nine bouts down the stretch, earning an at-large bid to the national tournament after taking ninth at the Big Ten meet. He was named the programs most improved wrestler.
While Surianos international weight - 57 kilograms - is equivalent to 125, the vibe around the program is he would not go back to his old weight if he returns. So Aguilar is pretty locked in here. Robinson took fifth place at the National Collegiate Open wrestling at 133 pounds. Shawver was considered a favorite to win the Ohio Division-1 126-pound title after taking second place for Elyria High as a sophomore and third as a junior, but the pandemic wiped out the state tournament. He is a three-time state medalist. Messina took sixth in the state at 126 pounds for Freehold Boro last season.
Projected starter: Sammy Alvarez (26-10).
Others in the mix: Luke Ecklof (DNW in 2019-20), Shane Metzler (11-8).
Notes: Alvarez was Rutgers best wrestler this past season and would have been the Scarlet Knights best All-America chance at the national tournament. He took sixth place at the Big Ten Championships and won the Southern Scuffle title earlier in the season and demonstrated he could wrestle with the nations elite at the weight. Hes the no-doubt guy unless Suriano returns.
Metzler, a three-time state medalist at West Morris, had a solid redshirt year after starting at 125 pounds during the 2018-19 season, falling a win short of a top-6 finish at the NCO. Ecklof did not wrestle this past season due to an injury; he started one dual meet during the 2017-18 campaign.
Projected starter: JoJo Aragona (13-12).
Others in the mix: Devon Britton (13-10), Al DeSantis (NJSIAA medalist), Zach Firestone (6-7), Andrew Gapas (17-15).
Notes: Aragona flashed potential during his true freshman season, but he certainly took his lumps. The Pope John state champion should be drastically improved as a sophomore, but a redshirt may make sense for him, pending roster additions, with a year of competition now under his belt. Firestone is set to graduate and still has eligibility remaining; keeping him on campus would be a big victory for Rutgers depth. Britton took fifth at the NCO and was named one of Rutgers top redshirt wrestlers for the season; Gapas fell one win away from a top-6 finish. DeSantis took seventh in the state this past season at 138 pounds for Shore Regional. He was also the Region 5 champion and is a three-time district champion.
Projected starter: Ryan Vulakh (DNW in 2019-20).
Others in the mix: Gerard Angelo (15-12), Jake Benner (8-10), Andrew Clark (NJSIAA medalist), Nick Santos (7-2).
Notes: Angelo was dangerous as times as a starter this past season almost assuredly would have been a national qualifier had he not suffered a concussion during the Big Ten Championships. But he was also streaky and suffered some critical dual meet losses. The Rutgers staff is extremely high on Vulakh, a Pennsylvania AA state champion who missed all of his true freshman year with a back injury. Vulakh was the nations No. 26-ranked recruit in the 2019 class and likely would have been the starter this past season if not for his injury. Many eyes will be on this wrestle-off come October.
Santos actually won the 149-pound spot in wrestle-offs last season before a knee injury derailed him. Benner wrestled at 157 pounds in the NCO after wrestling at 149 for most of last season while in redshirt. Clark won the 145-pound state title for Collingswood after finishing fourth at 132 pounds as a junior. He is a three-time state medalist.
Projected starter: Mike VanBrill (19-18).
Others in the mix: Stephan Glasgow (2-0), Cody Harrison (8-7).
Notes: VanBrill finished the season on a high note with a seventh-place finish at the conference tournament and an at-large bid to the national tournament. He was also an extremely efficient dual meet wrestler, as only five of his 18 losses saw the opponent earn bonus points. He could be due a big leap forward as a senior now that hes at a comfortable weight. Glasgow did not do much after starting the season with a team suspension, but the two-time Bound Brook state champion has the tools. If he puts it all together he can be an All-American. Harrison finished his redshirt year strong with a sixth-place finish at the NCO.
Projected starter: Rob Kanniard (16-6)
Others in the mix: Brett Donner (18-17), Jackson Turley (11-5), Connor ONeill (NJSIAA state champion).
Notes: Kanniard bumped up to 165 pounds for the NCO and finished third to cap a strong redshirt year. The Wall state champion will need to grab the starting spot from Donner, another Wall product who was solid in the lineup all season.
Turley, a four-time Virginia state champion and one-time national prep champion, has tremendous potential and is a bonus point threat every time he takes the mat. But Goodale expressed concerns with his weight management and preparation during the season, so a redshirt year is a real possibility. ONeill capped his career at DePaul by winning the 170-pound state title. He was also a Beast of the East champion and is a two-time state finalist, losing to Kanniard in 2019.
Rutgers 174-pounder Joe Grello had his season cut short due to a knee injury.Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Projected starter: Joe Grello (6-5).
Others in the mix: Anthony Olivieri (5-1).
Notes: Grello is still the guy here after an injury-plagued season cut short by a knee injury (he will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility). Its not immediately clear what the depth will be behind him. Willie Scott is graduating and Olivieri has eligibility left but participated in Senior Night ceremonies. Does Rutgers add a transfer? Perhaps one of the bigger 165-pounders moves up? Turley wrestled at 182 pounds as a senior in high school so this could be a comfortable spot for him.
Projected starter: John Poznanski, Colonia (NJSIAA champion).
Others in the mix: Joe Colon (NJSIAA medalist), Kyle Epperly (NJSIAA medalist).
Notes: Poznanski looked like he was ready to step right into the lineup as he tore through the state tournament in March en route to the 182-pound title and Outstanding Wrestler honors. But you likely wont see the three-time state medalist and two-time finalist immediately. Early indications are Rutgers will take it slow with Poznanski and have him wrestle unattached in the first semester, then make a decision on whether to pull him from redshirt right before the heart of Big Ten dual meet season. Our bet is there is no way the Scarlet Knights can keep him off the mat by January.
Colon, a Brick Memorial product, took fourth in the state at 182 last season. Epperly was a fifth-place state finisher for Jackson, Goodales old school. This is a weight (along with 197 pounds) where Rutgers could be in the market for a transfer.
Projected starter: Billy Janzer (21-10).
Others in the mix: Robert Damerjian (NJSIAA medalist)
Notes: Janzer is expected to move up a weight class after being a national qualifier at 184 pounds in his first full season (Matt Correntis transfer to Rider confirms that). Janzer, a two-time Delsea state champion, led Rutgers in dual meet points this past season. Damerjian took fourth place at 220 pounds for Moorestown this past season. Colon or Epperly, a two-time state medalist, could also land here for depth, as well as the possibility of a transfer.
Projected starter: Boone McDermott (NJCAA champion).
Others in the mix: Christian Colucci (9-2), Niccolo Colucci (NJSIAA medalist), Alex Esposito (18-14), Marcus Estevez (NJSIAA medalist), Kyle Lightner.
Notes: You can never have too many heavyweights, right? Rutgers has basically added two starters at the weight so far this offseason. The Scarlet Knights first landed a commitment from McDermott, who won the junior college national title for Iowa Central this past season and has three years of eligibility left. Then Colucci, a two-year starter before a knee injury seemingly ended his Rutgers during last season, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and announced he was returning to the team. And Esposito, who emerged as a solid starter in Coluccis absence, is also back and has an offseason to improve further ahead of him.
So whos the starter? Were sticking with McDermott for now. But Rutgers has options at a spot that has traditionally been a weak point. The coaching staff certainly wont complain.
Rutgers has also added Coluccis younger brother, Niccolo, who took fourth in the state at 220 pounds as a junior. Estevez took fourth in the state at heavyweight for Franklin last season and is a two-time state medalist. Lightner, a Delaware Valley state champion, most recently wrestled at heavyweight but he could go down to 197.
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